THE BLOG
02/11/2014 11:24 EST | Updated 04/13/2014 05:59 EDT

Doping and Passports in Russia

Just a few days before the start of the Olympics three biathletes, two Russians and one Lithuanian, tested positive for a "non-specific" substance, but widely believed to be a designer version of the endurance-boosting drug EPO.

That's the drug that made cycling (in)famous.

A report in the New York Times http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/07/sports/olympics/athletes-change-but-stain-of-doping-lingers.html?hpw&rref=sports&_r=0

and also in several Russian publications

http://www.profile.ru/obshchestvo/sport/item/78821-zavtrak-dlya-chempionov

say that biathletes are "always at the center of looking for new drugs."

In the Times report, Don Catlin, the former head of the U.C.L.A. Olympic Analytical Laboratory, said he and his team discovered three positives near the end of the Salt Lake Games, but that he and the International Olympic Committee president at the time, Jacques Rogge, had decided against pursuing their cases because "it would raise a huge stink around the world."

Interestingly the report goes on to say that billionaire Mikhail D. Prokhorov, who is majority owner of the NBA's Brooklyn Nets, has poured millions of dollars into the Russian biathlon federation, of which he is also President.

German broadcaster WDR sent two journalists to Moscow to buy a powerful drug called full-size MGF, which increases muscle size and strength but has been tested only on animals. They said the person who sold them the drug, which is not detectable using current anti-doping drug screenings, was a scientist at the Russian Academy of Sciences.

An ironic twist is that Canadian figure skaters in Sochi have been among the most tested athletes by WADA, the world anti-doping agency. Figure skaters. And if you can't get the good dope, you get athletes from another country and make them Russians.

Viktor Ahn, formerly Ahn Hyun-Soo, is one of the world's best short track speed skaters. He won three golds and a bronze in 2006 in Torino, and is also a five time overall World Champion.

Injury prevented him from competing in Vancouver, and then a long standing dispute with South Korean officials saw him change allegiances and become a Russian citizen in 2011.

''In Korea, they're all about quantity and technique,'' said Steven Bradbury the first Australian to win a Winter Olympic gold medal after all of his opponents were involved in a last corner pile-up in the 1000 metre race in 2002 at Salt Lake City.

In an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald http://www.smh.com.au/sport/winter-olympics/unlikely-russian-viktor-ahn-aims-to-be-the-last-skater-standing-20140208-328km.html Bradbury said "He's now in the Russian system, which is governed by Canadian coaches and they're all about speed and strength. He's a lot bigger. A lot more muscular than he used to be, that's for sure. His form this year means he will be one of the big contenders for the gold."

At the European Championship in Dresden last month, Ahn won overall gold and two silvers, but his main rival, Sjinkie Knegt of the Netherlands was far from happy with defeat. Knegt gave Ahn two middle finger salutes at the end of a race and also tried to kick the Russian.

Knegt was disqualified.

On Monday, Canadian Charles Hamelin took Gold in the 1500 meters, while Ahn took bronze. Many not familiar with the back story did a double take when Ahn picked up the Russian flag and celebrated his first medal for his adopted country.

Ahn's next race will be in the 1000 meters on February 13.

Another athlete who took Russian citizenship is snowboarder Vic Wild. A few years ago, Wild said he had "no money and no future" in the sport he loves. The game-changer? A Russian passport.

A lifelong snowboarder from the West Coast of the United States, 27-year-old Wild is the only US citizen competing for Russia at the Games -- and one of Russia's big Olympic hopes in a sport where it has little experience.

Wild, by the way, is the husband of Russia's world champion in parallel slalom Alyona Zavarzina.

Alec Glebov, while born in Slovenia, became a Russian three years ago.

He insists it is a natural transition as he has a Russian grandmother and his parents spent a lot of time living in St. Petersburg.

Glebov provided a glimpse of what Russian fans can expect from their best skier in Sochi when the 30-year-old continued his season-long improvement and finished 51st in Wengen in January.

But when the Motherland calls, you have to answer.